International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, commemorates the achievements of incredible women across the world.
The first International Women’s Day was marked in 1909, but women were shaping the world long before then.
Here are 10 of the most influential women you might not have heard of and how they changed the world over a span of 100 years in ways you might not have realized.
Clara Barton – At 59 years old, Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881, which she ran for 23 years. In 1854 she was the first woman to be hired as a recording clerk at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington D.C. She was payed the same as her male colleagues but was transferred as a copyist the following year with a lower salary. Barton quit her job when the Civil War broke out, making it her mission to bring medical supplies to Union soldiers in need and earning her the nickname the “angel of the battlefield.”
Marie Curie – Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. In 1903 Curie, her husband, and a fellow college were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics and in 1911, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, making her the only person to win the prestigious award in two different sciences. Curie was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. Curie’s work includes the development of the theory of radioactivity as well as the discovery of two elements Radium, and Polonium.
Margaret Sanger – In 1916, Sanger opened up the first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn but was arrested shortly thereafter for distributing birth control information, which was illegal at the time. She spent 30 days in jail, during which time she garnered substantial media attention and support from the public. In 1929, Sanger formed the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control to lobby Congress for legislation permitting doctors to prescribe birth control. Her efforts would eventually lead to widespread use of contraceptives in the United States.
Jane Addams – Addams became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. She was known for her work in social reform and women’s suffrage. An outspoken pacifist, Addams spent much of her life lobbying for social justice. Addams was instrumental in founding the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919.
Clare Boothe Luce – Luce was the first American woman appointed to a major ambassadorial post. After campaigning for Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election, she was appointed ambassador to Italy. Luce was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1983 and was the first female member of Congress to receive the award.
Valentina Tershkova – This Russian cosmonaut was the first woman to travel into space. She was selected out of more than 400 applicants to pilot Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963. She spent almost three days in space and orbited Earth 48 times.
Shirley Chisholm – Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Her campaign slogan was, “Unbought and unbossed.” She represented New York’s 12th congressional district for seven terms from 1969-1983.
Indira Gandhi – This trailblazing politician served four terms as India’s first and only female prime minister until being assassinated in 1984. Gandhi supported the war of independence in East Pakistan, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh under her leadership.
Junko Tabei – On May 16, 1975 Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Her ascent to the top of Everest was almost cut short when her team was swept away by an avalanche at an altitude of more than 21,000 feet. Tabei had lost consciousness before being recovered by a guide, but continued the journey regardless, reaching the summit 12 days later. Tabei also became the first woman to climb the seven summits, comprised of the highest mountain peaks from each of the seven continents.
Kathryn Bigelow – In 2010, Bigelow became the first female filmmaker to win Best Director at the Academy Awards for “The Hurt Locker” and is the fifth woman in history to be nominated for the award. Bigelow is known for merging the gap between commercial and independent filmmaking. Among her most well-known works are “Point Break,” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”